Yunnan Folk Songs


Vivian Fung


Performance forces:
mez, bar — fl, ob, cl, sheng horn (Chinese reed), perc, vln, vla, vc



Yunnan province in Southwest China is home to twenty-five different officially recognized ethnic minorities, or “nationalities,” each of which has its own language and culture. Since the early 1980s, Professor Zhang Xingrong of the Yunnan Art Institute has traveled throughout Yunnan, making field recordings and transcribing songs of many of those nationalities in their original dialects. Yunnan Folk Songs is based on my interpretations of seven of those recordings, from the Yi, Hani, Lisu, and Jingpo nationalities. The dialects in which the songs are sung are not written, but have been passed from generation to generation entirely orally, making literal translations difficult. The translations of each song are accordingly based by and large only on general meanings. When I first heard the recordings, which I ordered directly from Professor Zhang, my heart skipped a beat. The singing immediately made a deep and profound impact. I was in awe of the singers’ raw voices, representing the uninhibited qualities of people expressing their genuine feelings through their melodies. I was also struck by the fact that most of the songs are harmonically and rhythmically complex, including contrapuntal textures unusual in East Asian music, with as many as eight independent vocal parts. My process for recomposing these songs has been to preserve their original flavor, meaning, and essential melodic lines, while creating my contemporary reaction to the source materials.